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Dolpo lies in the north-west region of Nepal (situated behind the Dhaulagiri massif) and is one of the most remote and least exposed areas of Nepal. These unexplored, high altitude valleys were not opened until 1989. Isolated by the difficult topography, the people in this region have preserved their lifestyle, remaining almost untouched by the trappings of modern society. This trek is an opportunity to meet people who follow a lifestyle that goes back centuries. Dolpo was popularized by Eric Valli’s film “Caravan” which was nominated for an Oscar.
The people of Dolpo are of Tibetan origin and maintain their Tibetan culture with monasteries that follow closely the Buddhism of Tibet. The proximity with Tibet has ensured that little has changed since their forefathers crossed the border into Nepal. The trek is enlivened by the sight of yak caravans that even today travel long distances through difficult terrain to barter goods. The people of Dolpo have a primitive lifestyle with their own dialect and culture. During this wonderful trek you can visit several unique monasteries (gompas) like Shey Gompa (The Crystal Monastery) which is an important pilgrimage site for Tibetans. A special permit is issued for treks in this region and trekkers should be physically fit as there are long and strenuous stretches en route.
This is perhaps the most popular trek in western Nepal. The trail passes through Shey-Phoksundo National Park for which an entry fee should be paid in addition to the trekking permit fees. The most convenient means of reaching Lower Dolpo is to fly to Juphal airstrip, which is a 4-hour walk from Dunai, the district headquarters of Dolpo. There are regular flights to Dunai from Nepalgunj. However, if you wish to trek all the way, the trek begins from Dhorpatan which in turn can be reached from Pokhara or Tansen.
The trek can be completed between 8-12 days depending upon weather conditions and side excursions. The Lower Dolpo Circuit can be done either clockwise or anti-clockwise, depending on your preference. The highlights of the trek are the pristine Phoksundo Lake, featured in “Caravan” and the enchanting Tarap valley.
The same trek taking the anti-clockwise route starts from Juphal and follows the valley of Barbung Khola through Dunai and Tarakot. The trail now heads north towards the Tarap valley. The two-day trek up the Tarap valley to Dho Tarap is relatively difficult as you reach altitudes of 4000m. From Dho Tarap, two of the highest elevations are traversed before reaching Ringmo and Phoksundo lake.
From Ringmo, it is another two or three days of trekking back to Juphal passing through the villages of Sumduwa, Sepla and Hanke.
Dolpa is a most remote and least developed district in Nepal. Although a few anthropologists and geographers had explored the region, the entire district was closed to trekers until 1989 when the southern part of Dolpo was opened to organised trekking groups, Shey is still closed to foreigners. One story cites the reason for closure as the large-scale theft of statues from monasteries several years ago. It is possible to visit Tibetan-style “inner Dolpo” villages Tarap and at Phoksundo Lake, but most of the southern part of Dolpo is a region of Hindu influence.
The best known of the many isolated high Himalayan valleys across northern Nepal, Dolpo preserves one of the last remnants of traditional Tibetan Culture. Surrounded by high mountains including the Dhaulagiri massif to the southeast and cut off by high passes closed by snow half the year, Dolpo is close to Tibet, where people emigrated from perhaps 1,000 years ago.
Dolpo remains a truly isolated corner of Nepal. Time has stood still here for centuries as the inhabitants of Tibetan stock continue to live, cultivate and trade the way they have done since time immemorial. The finally preserved Eco–system encompasses a wild and wonderful variety of plants and wildlife, including the blue sheep and leopard. A trek through Dolpo is an experience not easily forgotten. Compared to the number of visitors to Lower Dolpo, few trekkers enter the upper section of Shey-Phoksundo National Park. A special permit must be obtained to enter this region. What attracts visitors to Upper Dolpo is the wilderness and the pristine landscape. Being a part of the Tibetan plateau, it is dry, cold and sparsely vegetated. The park, and particularly the northern part, is home to some rare and endangered wildlife such as the musk deer, snow leopard, and blue sheep. This region is also well known for rare Himalayan herbs.